A couple of weeks ago, I mailed out a few handmade Christmas cards to family and friends who I won’t be able to visit this Christmas. I wanted to send them a few words of encouragement and to let them know I was thinking about them.
One of the cards I had selected for a friend contained the message: “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas. May it be a Christmas to remember.”
I shook my head in derision as I read the message, noting the bitter irony of such a statement in light of 2020. I had made this card several years ago and had not intended for the message to contain so much irony.
For a brief moment, I even contemplated selecting another card, but then I decided to use the card anyway and added a handwritten note, acknowledging that this Christmas would certainly be a Christmas to remember, but not one we will ever want to repeat.
Those of you reading this know that the year 2020 has been tough on all of us. This coming Christmas will be a Christmas like no other. It will be talked about for generations to come as the year Christmas was cancelled.
The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit North America and other parts of the world this past Fall, and cases have been especially bad in my home province. More and more people in my city and province began testing positive with the virus as daily death tolls rose.
In the weeks leading up to November, the provincial government began to tighten restrictions in hopes of curving the rise of cases back down to a manageable level. Unfortunately, the numbers kept on rising until my home province eventually had the highest number of cases per capita in the country.
Then in November, the provincial government announced two new prohibitions: we could no longer visit with anyone outside of our immediate household, and we could no longer go shopping at a physical retail location to buy what was considered a non-essential item (in other words, if it wasn’t edible or flushable, it couldn’t be purchased in-store).
The tightened restrictions didn’t bother me too much because I knew it was for the greater good and I wanted my family, friends and people in my community to remain healthy. I knew that the sooner we could curve the numbers, the sooner we would be able to enjoy lessened restrictions and the sooner we would be able to go back to spending time with the people we love.
These tightened restrictions, however, were only supposed to last a few weeks, and as December approached and Christmas came closer, I continued to cling on to the hope that restrictions would be lessened just in the nick of time for Christmas.
Sadly, those hopes were dashed last week when the provincial government announced the devastating news that current restrictions would be extended until January 8th.
To me personally, this announcement means that I won’t be able to spend Christmas with the people I love the most, including my parents, grandmother, brothers, sisters, and niece.
It feels like Christmas has been officially cancelled.
If my home province was Whoville, the Grinch from Dr. Seuss’ story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, would be dancing on his mountaintop doorstep after hearing this announcement.
But as I write this blog post, I can’t help but wonder: is Christmas really cancelled?
The Grinch certainly believed Christmas would be cancelled if he stole all the Christmas decorations, food and gifts from Whoville.
Yet, when the sun rises on Christmas morning and he cups a hand over his ear to listen to the anguished cries that he is sure will rise up from Whoville, he is shocked to hear instead the sound of the Whos singing in praise.
Yes, you read that right.
The Whos sing in praise.
No matter what the Grinch tried to do to steal Christmas, it becomes apparent to him that Christmas still came. “It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes, or bags” (Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Cat in the Hat Presentation).
As the Grinch puzzles over this turn of events, he gradually begins to understand the true meaning of Christmas: “Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps means a little bit more” (Seuss).
Then the Grinch realizes that Christmas is, in fact, about love.
And, as love swells inside of him, his heart grows three sizes, transforming him so thoroughly inside and out that he finds “the strength of ten grinches plus two” (Seuss).
This newfound love radiates from the Grinch until he is overflowing with joy and becomes inspired to return everything he stole back to Whoville.
The Whos could have chosen to be angry when the Grinch returns with all their possessions, and they could have thrown him in jail or the trash heap, but instead they welcome him with open arms and invite him to spend Christmas with them. They even give him the seat of honour at their Christmas feast and ask him to carve the roast beast.
As a child hearing this story, I couldn’t help but wonder how the Whos could so easily forgive the transgressions of the Grinch and give him a place of honour at their table. After all, he was a thief and a grumpy old man. He didn’t deserve to eat the crumbs that fell from their table.
But the Whos knew something about Christmas that some of us don’t know, or those of us who do know it have forgotten it in the chaos of the season.
Last year I wrote a blog post titled, A Heart that Grew Three Sizes, in which I described how Christmas had become a dark time in my life because of how the mad rush of the season created excessive busyness, insurmountable commitments, impossible deadlines, and exorbitant amounts of stress that catapulted me into a state of anxiety and depression.
During this time in my life, I had lost sight of the meaning of Christmas as I became blinded by the commercialization of the season. I became bitter and angry to the point where, like the Grinch, I hated Christmas and wanted to skip it altogether.
Yet, I loved Christmas as a child and have fond memories of the holiday season. I knew something needed to change in my life if I was ever going to enjoy Christmas again, which is why I made the decision to return to my roots and refocus on the reason I celebrate Christmas in the first place.
In order to take back Christmas, I had to return to the very first Christmas story that was ever told: a true story of a baby who was born in a manger thousands of years ago and eventually grew up into a man who loved each and every person in the world so much that he willingly gave up his life for them all so that they would be able to find true, unconditional love and redemption.
It is because of this true story that Christmas celebrations all over the world were started in the first place. Christmas has never been about decorations, presents, stockings, or large family gatherings. Christmas has always been about the birth of Love manifested in the body of a tiny baby named Jesus Christ.
Sadly, over the centuries, the true meaning of Christmas has become buried beneath the ever growing mountain of commercialization, materialism, and secularism. Like the Grinch, we have become deaf from the incessant clanging of all the “NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!” (Seuss).
Perhaps the Whos in Whoville had also become deaf from all the noise of the season until the Grinch stole everything that represented Christmas, leaving nothing but hooks and some wire on their walls.
Perhaps their jaws dropped as they gazed on the emptiness in their homes, listening to the echo of their voices.
Were they disappointed that everything they had was gone? I’m sure they were, otherwise they wouldn’t be human.
Did they cry out in rage and frustration and point fingers at each other for this terrible thing that had happened to them? It depends on which version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas you watch. They might have done that, too, because, after all, they were human.
But regardless of the version you watch, whether it be the original animated film from 1966, the Jim Carrey live action film from 2000, or the newer animated film from 2018, the Whos of Whoville still gather outside in the town square around the place where the town Christmas tree should have been decorated in all its splendour.
And they begin to sing. Softly at first, and then their voices crescendo as they clasp hands and a song of praise rises from their lips, reaching up to the mountaintops and beyond: “Welcome Christmas, bring your light” (Seuss).
The original Dr. Seuss book and various films over the decades don’t say this, but I believe the Whos sing in praise and glory to God. I believe they have a faith grounded in the birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ, because if they didn’t, they would not have extended such amazing grace and forgiveness to the Grinch when he returns in repentance.
The way the Whos respond to the Grinch reminds me of another story, a parable of a lost son who squanders his father’s inheritance on wild living until he has nothing left and finds himself starving to death. This son returns to his father’s house, humbled and repentant, intending only to ask for a place as a servant in his father’s household, knowing it is more than he deserves.
But the boy’s father sees his son coming from a long way off and runs out to meet him, pulling him into an embrace and kissing him. Then the father does something unexpected: he tells the servants to prepare a party to celebrate the return of his son. When asked why, the father replies, “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (see Luke 15:11-22).
Even though the Whos lose all the things that the secular world would say makes Christmas what it is, they still choose to sing a song of praise and thanksgiving. Why? Because they know Christmas can’t be cancelled with the theft of their Christmas decorations, presents, and food.
They know this because Jesus has already been born and redeemed the world.
Nothing can take Christmas away. Not the Grinch, and certainly not the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is great news! It means that Christmas is not cancelled after all!
For those of us who know and remember the true meaning of Christmas, we know that Christmas Day is always the day of Jesus’ birth and we can celebrate His birthday with or without decorations, gifts, and large gatherings.
While there’s no doubt that the awfulness of the COVID-19 pandemic has ruined many of our plans, forcing us to spend a much quieter Christmas celebration than we’re used to, if you believe in God’s goodness, then you can cling onto the knowledge that He can work good out of any bad situation.
I believe that He will work something good out of this quiet, holiday season.
Perhaps, like the Grinch, Jesus has also gotten tired of all the “NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!” and no longer wants to compete for our attention. Perhaps He simply wants to use this quiet, holiday season to remind us of how much He loves us and wants to spend time with us.
This Christmas will certainly be a Christmas to remember as we find alternative ways to be “present” with family and friends that won’t involve putting anyone’s health at risk. We may not be able to celebrate Christmas in the way we had hoped, but we do have a choice in how we will conduct our attitudes about our present circumstances. Like the Grinch, we can choose to grumble and complain about how much we hate our unfortunate circumstances, or, like the Whos, we can choose to sing in praise and thanksgiving for the love and blessings we have already received.
But remember this: no matter how grinchlike our attitudes might be or how much our souls have become “an appalling dump heap, overflowing with the most disgraceful assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable” (Seuss), if we return to the Father in humility and repentance, He will welcome us back with open arms and give us a seat of honour at His table. He may even ask us to carve the roast beast.
How will you choose to remember Christmas this year? Answer in the comments in below.
You are not alone.
You. Are. Loved.
I hope you find love, hope and peace in these words.